Writing & Free Expression On Trial: PEN Outgoing President Danson Kahyana Beaten & Left Toothless
By Frank Ntambi
For the most part, writing seems like a pretty safe job—sitting behind a keyboard and tapping away certainly doesn’t seem too dangerous. Of course, sometimes writers find themselves in combat zones, but by and large, novelists and other purveyors of fiction don’t need to worry too much about whether their life insurance is up to date.
Unless they do. Writing has power, after all—once written down and disseminated, ideas can achieve a permanence that no political or military power can completely destroy. Throughout history, plenty of writers have lost their lives because they dared to write. Even in the modern age, there is at least one writer still under direct threat of execution.
Those who are hearing the name Danson Kahyana for the first time, besides being the outgoing president of PEN Uganda, he is as well a senior lecturer of Literature in English at Makerere University, prolific writer, published poet, writer of illustrated children’s books, editor of several books, publisher, and a recipient of several scholarships - the most recent being the Full bright Research Fellowship.
He is an indigene from Kasese who edited the poetry collection called “Fire on the Mountain” which focused on the Kasese Massacres of November 2016. He also led the Writers-in-Prison program that yielded an edited volume of prison-writing called “As I stood before the world.” He is a strong advocate for the safety and security of persecuted writers in Uganda.
Each year, Human Rights Watch presents Hellman/Hammett grants to writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution. The grant program began in 1989 when the estates of American authors Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett asked Human Rights Watch to design a program for writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views. Last year's grants totalled $575,000.
In many countries, governments use military and presidential decrees, criminal libel, and sedition laws to silence critics. Writers and journalists are threatened, harassed, assaulted, or jailed merely for providing information from nongovernmental sources. In addition to those who are directly targeted, many others are forced to practice self-censorship.
On Wednesday morning, Ugandan human rights advocate, politician and scholar of sexuality Stella Nyanzi took to her Facebook to report shocking news of how PEN Uganda outgoing President Dr. Danson Sylvester Kahyana was violently attacked by the yet to be identified people who are reported to have been four in number, who pursued Kahyana at around 22:30hrs on his way back home, beat him up-breaking most of his teeth, and stole his phone, bank cards, national ID and money.